Debrief: Edward Guiliano’s NYIT victory lap

All good things: Arguably the most progressive of all NYIT presidents to date, Edward Guiliano has announced his retirement.

Since the circa-1910 New York Technical Institute was rechristened the New York Institute of Technology in 1955, it’s had three presidents: Alexander Schure, his son Matthew Schure and Edward Guiliano, who took the helm in 2000. The Dix Hills native, who earned a doctorate in literature at Stony Brook University, was still an SBU graduate student when he joined NYIT in 1974 as an English instructor. When he retires as president – he’s announced his departure but won’t go until an indefinite international search for his successor concludes – he’ll be remembered as NYIT’s most progressive leader to date, responsible for giant leaps in enrollment, programming and international profile. His self-assessment: 

WHY NOW? My last contract was for five years, which was extended to six with the understanding that, at the end, the university would be ready for somebody else and I’d be ready for a vacation.

IN SEARCH OF: It could be a short search, it could be longer. I’ve been talking to a search firm for two months already. This is just the public phase. Announcing in the middle of the summer would make no sense. Announce at graduation and you become the story. This is the normal timing and this is the normal season for recruiting a president.

INSTITUTE WITHOUT BORDERS: We have students from 125 countries and all 50 states this semester, and of course the campuses in China (Nanjing and Beijing), Abu Dhabi, Vancouver and Arkansas. There is an entrepreneurial spirit in our DNA and access to opportunity is in our mission statement. Sometimes, you have to bring the program to where the needs are.

WHERE THE NEEDS ARE: Arkansas was ranked 48th or 49th in the nation in healthcare. One medical school in the state. Arkansas State University wanted to have a medical school, but the state couldn’t afford to build one from scratch. So, the opportunity existed. We put an additional location of our medical school in the dead center of the Arkansas State campus – the first medical school to open in Arkansas in more than 100 years. That’s extraordinary.

THINK GLOBALLY: In Vancouver, another opportunity arose, and then in Abu Dhabi, just like in China, where we’ve been since I was provost. We don’t just want our flag flying in so many places. We never said that. We’re strategic.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN OLD WESTBURY: We reconfigured the school for interdisciplinary studies. The Center for Sports Medicine was literally my idea. We have the Cyber Defense center. We have the Center for Visualization and the Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Center, and the Center for Global Health and a graduate Center for Education. But what really stands out for me is the continuous improvement. It breeds more.

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME: When you’re president, you can have ideas, but you have to have people to execute them. After 2008, a lot of colleges and universities suffered. There were layoffs. We were able to seize the moment. All of a sudden, instructors who might have otherwise gone elsewhere were coming here, and we had a new generation of faculty and administrators. You could say we were lucky, but you clearly make your own luck by being positioned well. If we weren’t developing programs that were in demand, it would have been a different story.

IN THE ZONE: Because that innovation is in our DNA, we really saw the value of students and faculty setting up corporations on the Old Westbury campus and then spinning off later. So, we’re doing exactly that in the ETIC and renovating other buildings on campus to house some of these companies in the Start-Up NY tax-free space. It’s a very big campus, in terms of space, and we want these companies here, with students and faculty having access to them.

SO YOU WANT TO BE PRESIDENT: There are lots of challenges around us. We all know there are financial challenges for any university, and a different level of philanthropy will be expected from the next president. There are challenges for families regarding tuition and debt. And in the Long Island area, across New York City and throughout the Northeast region, high school graduation rates are decreasing – they’ll be flat at best for the next 15 or 20 years. In fact, the population of U.S. high school graduates will be relatively flat.

BIGGER POOL: On the other side, more and more international students will be choosing to study outside of their country, and America is always the aspirational choice, particularly the New York metropolitan area. So, the first point to make is that students in the next 10 or 20 years are going to be a different mix.

GRADUATE LEVEL: Also, there will be more graduate students. That’s a real growth area. The master’s will replace the bachelor’s as the must-have degree.

THINKING AHEAD: And there will especially be challenges to stay current in the STEM areas. That’s where innovation is going to take place and where the jobs will be. Our university is very well-positioned for this because of our mix of programs, with the focuses on healthcare and technology and digital technology, all of which lead naturally to interdisciplinary studies.

REGIONAL VIEW: There can be no innovation without the human-capital component, and we have the human capital on Long Island, especially in the STEM areas. The universities are at the center of it, and not just NYIT. It’s Stony Brook and the other great universities on Long Island, along with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and those places. They are essential to the innovation economy.

NOT THERE YET: There are only three or four obvious things around which you can build this regional economy. Every five or 10 years we have this same discussion, but there still hasn’t been true government focus on investment in one or two key areas. We put $2 million into something and think we’re going to compete, but then Singapore puts $10 billion into it.

FOCAL POINT: I think we’ve had a generation of politicians who were incapable of driving the agenda. The raw material is here, but the leadership hasn’t been. Governor Cuomo has made a lot of efforts with a lot of money going to helping people find jobs in upstate New York, where now the universities are the biggest employers. On Long Island, now it’s healthcare, and the universities are becoming the biggest employers. But what’s the business business? There are innovation centers and startups and things, but there’s still a long way to go before Long Island is an “innovation hub.”

PLUGGING AWAY: This is not impossible. The universities are Long Island’s heroes. We’re the innovative engines. What many places want – an educated workforce, a generally good infrastructure, top universities – we have. Our transportation needs work and housing is an issue, and yes, the demographics are working against us. But access to New York City, in terms of capital and communications and jobs, is a tremendous asset. And there are some really great things happening in health and STEM. Long Island can soar in certain niches, if we stay focused.

Interview by Gregory Zeller